Targeting mastitis strains pays off

Targeting mastitis strains pays off
Feeding silage out on the 450 hectare Plantation Road Dairies at Ongaonga.

Taking a more targeted approach to mastitis has paid big dividends for Hawke’s Bay farmers Kevin and Linda Davidson. Rather than taking a blanket approach to the treatment of their herd the couple has been doing farm incubation of milk samples to identify the extract strains of mastitis their herd is suffering from and have discovered streptococcus uberis was one of the strains they needed to deal with.
“This is one of the more difficult strains to treat as it is very deep rooted in the tissue of the udder so you really need to cull that cow. By identifying which cows have this strain we can then work towards culling that animal and ensuring it doesn’t spread to other cows in the herd,” explains Kevin
. He says it was also identified that while the detergents they were using were cleaning the equipment they weren’t killing off all the mastitis bugs. By adding a chlorine wash at the end of the cycle they have eliminated this problem.
The result has been a big reduction in mastitis in their herd with the need to use dry cow therapy on around half the number of cows they were treating before and also needing to use fewer antibiotics over the whole herd.
“It’s been a game changer,” says Kevin. “Using fewer antibiotics is also something the industry will need to be doing going forward so it’s also good in terms of best practice.
We need to be smarter around what we do in this area.” The couple has been proponents of farming more sustainably for many years.
They use a biological fertiliser program involving nurturing the naturally occurring biology and microorganisms in the soil in order to create healthier more nutrient rich land.
“There are something like 25,000 fungi and bacteria in one teaspoon of soil. By working to help these microorganisms we’re finding the grass is more palatable with 3-4 times the sugar levels we had prior to the program.
There are also about 3-4 times as many worms. Grass is also 20% higher in energy and 20% higher in dry matter,” says Kevin.
They are harvesting 14,500-15,000 tonnes of dry matter per hectare compared with 12,500 tonnes when they were farming using conventional methods.
They are using a third of the nitrogen they used before. There has also been a flow on effect with milk production gains and reduced farm costs.
He says he now gets less insect damage, no longer has to drench calves and has been able to cut back on mineral supplementation to animals. “Insects and parasites don’t really like high sugar pasture so they tend to go the neighbours now,” he says with a smile.
Kevin is certain the milk they produce is of a higher quality than normal due to the way they farm. Plantation Road Dairies supplies Fonterra but also a small local boutique dairy company Origin Earth. The company won multiple awards at the NZ Champion of Cheese Awards for its products.
“They are adamant that the quality of the milk we produce helps them win awards,” says Kevin proudly. Plantation Road Dairies Limited is owned by the Davidson and Shepherd families.
The company owns a 450 hectare dairy farm at Ongaonga milking 2200 cows and 590 hectares of support land spread over several separate blocks close by.
Kevin, an electrician by trade, wasn’t brought up in a farming family, which explains why he may be more willing to think outside the square.
He started farming in the 1980’s in Matamata moving up the system with a series of sharemilking positions to the present farm in 2000.

Targeting mastitis strains pays off
Hawke’s Bay farmer Kevin Davidson (top) is doing farm incubation of milk samples to identify the exact strains of mastitis that is affecting his milking herd.

Although Kevin admits there have been challenges over recent years in terms of the payout, this has just led them to review their farming system and make it more efficient.
They have lowered the per-cow cost by doing more in-house such as cultivation, planting and harvesting. It’s also altered the way they farm.
“We used to avoid grass silage because of the cost. Now because we do all the work ourselves it’s become our second cheapest feed. Doing more in-house has meant we have had to take on more staff but the costs stack up.
Our team is a key factor in the implementation of our biological fertiliser program and the success of the whole operation.”
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